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2020 NFL Draft

Browns rookie Jordan Payton models his game after a WR close to Hue Jackson's heart

Jordan Payton's connection to Hue Jackson, as tangential as it might have been, started long before he was setting records at UCLA.

Payton, a Los Angeles native, was just a child when he'd run to the mailbox and find a box of gloves and cleats from Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Payton's older brother, Michael, became close friends with Houshmandzadeh during their time together at Oregon State, and Payton embraced the future Pro Bowler as a role model of sorts.

That's why Payton's familiarity with Jackson, also a Los Angeles native, tested well above average when he met with the Browns throughout the pre-draft process, and it's why there was just a little bit more excitement when he learned he'd be headed to Cleveland when he heard his name called in the NFL Draft's fifth round.

"It's amazing to have a guy like T.J. in my life, and, obviously, his favorite coach was Hue Jackson," Payton said. "It's going to be an amazing time."

The Browns used their first of four fifth-round picks Saturday when they selected UCLA wide receiver Jordan Payton with the No. 154 pick.

Jackson was Houshmandzadeh's wide receivers coach in Cincinnati from 2004-06. Houshmandzadeh went from no catches in two games in an injury-shortened 2003 to 73 receptions, 948 yards and four touchdown in 2004. From 2005-06, he caught 168 passes for more than 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Another mentor of Payton's, former Oregon State and Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson, caught 279 passes for 4,075 yards and 25 touchdowns during that stretch.

"We watched the Bengals a lot," Payton said.

For those closest to Payton, that will change to the Browns in 2016, as the former Bruin is one of four drafted wide receivers added to a Cleveland offense vying to make significant improvement under Jackson and associate head coach - offense Pep Hamilton.

"In the end, I landed in the best place with coach Jackson as the head coach," Payton said. "It is going to be an unbelievable year for me, an unbelievable career for me with Cleveland. I am excited to take on this next step of my life. I can't wait to get out there."

Payton's numbers during his final two seasons at UCLA's looked a lot like Houshmandzadeh's with the Bengals. Catching at least one pass in the final 29 games of his college career, Payton amassed a UCLA record 201 receptions and peaked as a senior with 1,106 yards and five touchdowns.

Payton doesn't embrace the "possession receiver" tag many placed on him before the draft, and his college record proves he's more than just a short- to mid-range pass catcher. In each of his four seasons, Payton had at least one catch of 40 yards or longer, including an 80-yarder as a junior and a 59-yarder in his final season. He had 14 catches of 25 or more yards as a senior.

His hands, though, are what make him so valuable in those pivotal, move-the-sticks situations. It's something the Browns lacked in 2015 and what they sought in the 2016 draft.

"Whether there is a possession-receiver label on me or anything, I just like to get out there and play football. I am a football player," Payton said. "I am extremely grateful and extremely blessed. Me and my family have been waiting a long time for this, not just today but in my lifetime with how hard I have worked."

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